Notes from the Front: Katherine Mansfield’s literary response to the Great War

Gerri Kimber

Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapterpeer-review

Abstract

The New Zealand short story writer, Katherine Mansfield, was profoundly influenced both in her work and her personal life by the Great War. Most of her fiction dates from 1914. She died in 1923 (aged 34), and towards the end of her life was too sick to write much of any consequence. Thus, the most productive phase of her short writing career coincided with the duration of the war and its immediate aftermath. This essay demonstrates how significant this historical conjunction was in terms of her literary output, since it resulted, for her, in a sense of cultural, historical and social fragmentation (brought about and reinforced by her war-time experiences, especially the death of her beloved younger brother), and her ensuing development of the Modernist short story. In February 1915, Mansfield made a trip to the battlefront in north-east France to spend four nights with her then lover, the French writer Francis Carco. Her story, ‘An Indiscreet Journey’, written in Paris in May 1915, is an account of this episode. It remains one of the earliest fictional accounts of the Great War written in English, by a woman, with first hand experience of the scenes she is describing. Here we find in fiction, and possibly for the first time, a description of the after effects of gas poisoning on a soldier. In addition to this trip, Mansfield spent many months in France during the war; in 1918, for example, she found herself in Paris during the terrifying German bombardment of the city. Her Journal and Letters of the period, as this essay highlights, form a unique record of war-time France, from the perspective of a New Zealand woman abroad
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Great Adventure Ends: New Zealand and France on the Western Front
EditorsNathalie Philippe, Christopher Pugsley, John Crawford, Matthias Strohn
Place of PublicationChristchurch, New Zealand
PublisherJohn Douglas Publishing
Pages241-254
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9780987666581
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2013

Keywords

  • Katherine Mansfield
  • LIterary
  • Great War
  • Literature
  • Writing

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